A recent article in the Los Angeles Times titled “The Caregiver’s Dilemma” chronicled the author’s struggle to care for herself as she looked after her mother, who has dementia and was in a rehab facility with a broken hip.
As I read the article, I could feel the author’s exhaustion. And when she concluded that she could not take care of both herself and her mother at the same time, stating, “It’s one or the other, one at a time,” I completely understood what she meant.
Today, so many of us are becoming unpaid family caregivers and the toll is not just on the caregiver. When I tell people that family caregivers provide 80 percent of the long-term care services in this country and those services are valued at $577 billion— or more than the total cost of Medicare—they are floored.
Yes, caregiving is a silent epidemic. Those caring for loved ones are often thrust into unexpected roles that are complex, costly and stressful. But the impact is not just a social issue; it’s a workplace issue too.
According to a recent public policy study, more than half of the nation’s unpaid caregivers are in the workforce. And 60 percent of those caregivers work full time.
Working caregivers are struggling. According to an AARP study, family caregivers are taking leaves of absence, turning down promotions, reducing work hours, and in some cases quitting their jobs altogether or taking early retirement to give care.
Caregivers, by their own admission, are feeling less productive as they juggle competing concerns. On one hand, they’re concerned about the person they’re caring for—their medical needs, financial needs and treatment concerns. At the same time they are dealing with their personal stress, trying to identify resources and finding it hard to ask for help.
Companies have good incentive to support caregivers in the workplace because caregivers are costing them money. Caregivers have higher levels of depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and impaired immune function, and can cost companies 8 percent more in healthcare expenditures.
Caregivers also report higher levels of stress and are spreading that stress to other employees.
With both humanistic and financial reasons to support caregivers, what are companies doing to help meet the needs of caregivers in the workplace?
Some companies are training their managers to identify and address stereotypes and biases about family caregivers.
Some offer flex time or parttime work to employees who are juggling other responsibilities such as caregiving. Some companies offer the services of a geriatric care manager to help caregivers find resources and make plans to care for a loved one.
Others invite in nonprofit organizations that offer education, support groups and care fairs to assist family caregivers.
Do you know a business or organization that deserves recognition for its support and celebration of caregivers?Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village and Agoura Hills employees and businesses are being asked to nominate an organization for the “Caregivers Matter . . . Conejo Cares” Caregiver-Friendly Workplace Award.
“ Caregivers Matter . . . Conejo Cares” is a partnership between Senior Concerns; the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce; the cities of Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village and Agoura Hills; and local healthcare providers who salute local employers that are demonstrating leadership by accommodating and recognizing caregivers. One nominee will be awarded the Caregiver-Friendly Workplace Award.
Nominations will be accepted until Jan. 9, 2015, and award winners will be announced Jan. 31.
Nominations will be reviewed by a committee of professionals according to the criteria found below.
Celebration: The nominee recognizes caregivers by raising awareness of their needs within the workplace, society and the family, and celebrating them for the important role they play in the community.
Accommodation: The nominee supports caregivers by offering flexible hours, extended leave, suitable accommodations, caregiver education programs and other support policies or practices.
Innovation: The nominee demonstrates creativity and innovation in the ways that caregivers are supported and recognized through the range and delivery of workplace accommodations, education programs and means of celebration, and offers unique services through benefits such as caregiver support referral center or education resources.
For more information and an application, go to www.conejochamber.org or www.seniorconcerns.org .